Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Who should I call?

I just finished a report after many employee ‘listening sessions’. I’ve done 4 of these projects now and heard over 1000 people who - and it’s peculiar - stick to the same topics and concerns year after year.

They talk about work/life balance (no one has it) and flex time (not everyone is for it). They talk about how nobody ever tells them anything (and sometimes they’re right). And they talk about not knowing who to go to with work questions, problems or ideas. They complain about having to ask other people for direction about who else to approach.

I’m always flabbergasted at that one. Yes, company phone books and org charts aren’t always in great shape but surely that’s not a reason to toss up your hands and give up?

Let’s use the example of being new to the city. You need to set up a home with services. You need to find activities. You need to get restaurant recommendations. Yes, there's a city phone book - always a place for the big ticket items. But do you stop there? Do you expect by examining neighbourhood maps or city websites that you should find everything you need regarding your personal project needs?

Of course not.

You ask friends and neighbours. You chat up whomever is in line at the grocery store. You pass yourself from person to person until you find the pieces you need. It’s expected.

We do the same to both build our network and mine it. We are mentored to do this. Heck, that’s why this blog has the reference to circles - they overlap, they ripple, they widen.

So WHY is it considered to be such a hardship to do it as part of our jobs? Frankly, that’s just silly. And even sillier to hold the organization accountable beyond producing the phone book. Hmph!

Monday, July 28, 2008

When you really don’t feel up to it

So - how do you maintain your network and keep mentoring when you’re feeling truly depressed or simply discouraged?

No - this isn’t a hidden cry for help or a question for which there is only one answer.

But lately my own struggles have skewed my interaction with my world. I’m not comfortable putting on a fake face - though I do have comfort in putting on a brave one.

I just don’t have the energy or resources to reach out with both hands to those who depend on me or to those on whom I depend. My life is a little overwhelming at the moment and my career is a piece of that puzzle.

It’s crummy to be so down in the hot sunny days of summer. Somehow the snow and sleet are better for lying in bed and wondering about life.

My solution? I can only speak for myself of course…
1 - I set a minimum of interaction below which my ethics are compromised and make myself stick to it. I will feel worse about myself if I throw my hands up and let everything go to pot instead of just the pieces I think are doing so without my help. But I will not put my schedule over the solitude I currently crave.
2 - I won’t take on any new commitments until I feel more settled emotionally once more.
3 - I will let my mentors and peers know that, with my thought processes muddied, I might rely more on theirs to help me through.
4 - I will trust in the decisions I made a few months ago instead of giving into the doubts that besiege me now (unless I get new hard facts to change the decisions).

Being professional is often synonymous with being impersonal. I don’t subscribe to that. For my network to be successful and my mentoring to be meaningful, I have to be human. Sometimes that means asking for help. Sometimes that means admitting I’m not on top of my game. That approach gives all of us permission to do the same if we so choose.

I’ll be here on this blog. I just may not have time for tea at the moment.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Words we misuse

The Lexicon of Mentoring and Networking

Mentoring and networking are 2 halves of the same coin. Networking being the active building of community and mentoring being the individual seeking of counsel/advice from that community.

Mentoring and networking are not a science; they are an art. You can have checklists, invitations and plans but it comes down to 2 basic things - relationships and words.

It drives me crazy that some organizations talk about mentoring and networking without defining what they mean AND using the 2 words interchangeably.

With interest in these topics on the rise, we run the risk of losing all meaning - much like the over-hyped word ‘green’ or the or the nonsensical, amorphous understanding of ‘cool’.

Just look at some of the words we use:
* intern / internship
* apprentice / apprenticeship
* placement
* protégée
* mentoree
* coach
* mentor
* advisor
* manage / manager
* network
* relationship management

Would you call a chicken a turkey?

So let me just make the first of many distinctions for my purposes :-)

Apprenticing: Trump has made this famous - you find a successful sponsor who will teach you everything they know and you follow in their footsteps till you either have their job or have enough ‘whatever’ to build your own path. It’s a method that has been around for hundreds of years and has produced some great artists and thinkers.
I lump in internships and placements here.

Mentoring: as I see it, mentoring puts the work back on the mentoree. You own your actions and decisions at all times. You choose -or don’t - to take the advice or challenges given to you by your mentor. You’re answerable to no one but yourself on your progress. It’s like an independent study.

And managing and coaching are what your supervisor does.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

While Travelling

Recently, I've had the opportunity to do some travelling - mostly for work and mainly to places I've never been. Ah, you might think this was terrific for making new friends, contacts and adventures. Of course it was - but it was also terrible for keeping up with my current circles.

I supposed I could have blogged about my adventures (though really, no one wants to hear about what I had for supper in Portland or how nice the admins were in NJ?). Honestly, I found myself too tired at the end of the day to reach out - even in cyberspace - to more than my kid.

I espouse keeping in touch. I made a commitment on this blog. I have long-standing relationships I value that require personal moments. So why is it that travelling broke all of this?

It didn't.

It gave me time to think and not just say/do.

So here's my current top 10 list for networking when you travel.

10 - Understand which points of contact should be part of your travels (i.e. my kid) and which can wait for your return.

9 - Don't feel guilty about taking a short break from those other relationships.

8 - Focus on the people you're meeting while away - this could be one of the few chances where you'll see them face-to-face.

7 - Be consistent in your approach with folks - if you're more reserved or more outgoing while travelling then ask yourself if you need to make adjustments (at home or away) to reflect your real style.

6 - Try not to introduce yourself by 'what you do' when away. If you're travelling in a business context, chances are they know why you're there. If you're on personal time, it's a great chance to showcase another of your many sides.

5 - There's no need to add everyone you meet to your network. You're looking for folks who offer new/interesting pieces to your approach to life/career/questions - and who might value your contributions. A pile of business cards is simply a pile if you don't genuinely want to have a conversation with the name(s) on the card.

4 - Don't post shots of yourself in your new bathing suit. Even if you found it on sale at Lord&Taylor and it's beautiful. Somethings only your mother would appreciate.

3 - Grab the chance to read - take information in instead of the constant output expected from us in our working lives. Murder mysteries count.

2 - Wonder how to really set up networking from a borderless, distance-agnostic perspective. Put that question out there.

1 - Let everyone know when you're home.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Your mentor, your friend?

Actually, a mentor asked me this question. She has been mentoring someone for about 2 years and has come to care about them – even though they only meet a few times per year. She knows her mentoree is having some personal upheaval and has become withdrawn. As a friend, she might reach out and offer her help. As a mentor, she feels compelled to stay away.

She doesn't want to make anyone uncomfortable or embarassed as she feels she holds some power as the mentor.

What would you do in her situation?

Friday, July 4, 2008

How much time to give to change?

I’m off to sunny Portland ME to run a small executive meeting for IT. I will miss my Weds posting next week due to the fact I’ll be driving around the state and hopefully sampling a few lobster rolls. I promise to make it up to you.

In the meantime, here’s an excellent question to ponder:

How long should I give myself when I make a change?

Changing your approach & philosophy
They say in exercise that muscle memory kicks in after 10 repetitions. So if you do a move like an ab crunch incorrectly 9 times, you’ll spend many months unintentionally injuring yourself. If you do the move correctly, you’ll be fine.

Changing our lives isn’t easy to do - never mind doing it error-free. The discipline of assessing, networking, questioning becomes habit - but refining those habits can take weeks, months or even a whole career.

Instead of setting goals with time limits (i.e. I will become an executive by 2010) - set milestones against your overall goal (I will read X, take X course, find a mentor for X, target X company, etc). Each milestone is one set of crunches towards your goal of a stronger abdomen.

Changing a major part of your life
Timing yourself is slightly different when you’re experience an external change like moving houses or changing jobs.

I give myself 3- 6 months depending on the size of the change (and how many at once) for life to assume its new(er) patterns. I set milestones within those months but I don’t push myself to do more than get my usual routines back in place. My priority is to not push myself to do more than find my place within the new setting and to not lose touch with my community as the crazy busy times take over.

I’m not always successful at staying in touch - I’d welcome your thoughts on simple ways to do that while running the marathon we call life!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

It's work

"Discipline is not a nasty word." Pat Riley

There is no pill. There is no quick fix. I think I groaned when I really took in the fact that building a community was another full-time job in my jam-packed agenda.

It’s time and effort. It’s WORK. You have to plan; you have to follow through.

It takes commitment and discipline.

You run the real risk of being called *gasp* a Brazen Careerist - someone who is openly ambitious.

This is where I balked. I'm known as a sociable, let's-all-take-turns kind o'person and ambition these days seems to mean you're willing to run over your best friend to get the trophy.

And - where do you draw the line between personal and professional communities? I mean if you do decide to do the work, make the commitment to yourself and risk being labeled as 'out there' how many darn communities do you have the time to build?


Yes it creates some weird grey lines between the personal and professional but life doesn't fall into neat boxes (though I've dated some guys who tried to live that way).

How do you feel about the grey zone?